Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Who Is Your Most Recent Immigrant Ancestor?

This week for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun Randy Seaver posed a question about immigrant ancestors:

1) Who is your most recent immigrant ancestor?  I'm assuming that your ancestors moved from one country to another at some point in time.

2)  Tell us about that person:  name, birth and death, emigration and immigration country and port, date or year of immigration, etc.  Share it in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog post, or on Facebook or Google+.

Well, my family are relative latecomers compared to Randy's, by almost 70 years.  My most recent immigrant ancestors were my great-great-grandparents, Gershon Nowicki and Dvojre (Yelsky) Nowicki, shown as Gerszon and Dobra Nowitzky, who departed Liverpool on August 24, 1922 on the S.S. Laconia and arrived in New York City on September 3.  When they immigrated they were listed as being about 66 and 64 years old, respectively.  Gershon was a woodturner, and Dvojre was simply his wife.  They were of the Hebrew race (Jewish), and their last permanent residence was Porosowa, Poland (now Porozovo, Belarus).  Their nearest relative whence they came was their daughter, Mirke Krimelewicz, also in Porosowa.

The second page of the passenger list shows that Gershon and Dvojre paid for their own tickets, were each in possession of $25, and had never before been in the United States.  The relative they were joining was their son, Sam Nowitzky, who lived at 1160 52nd Street, Brooklyn.  They replied no to all of the big "boot you out right away" questions:  ever been in prison, are you a polygaist or an archist, do you advocate overthrow of the government, etc.  They both stated they were in good physical and mental health and were not deformed or crippled.  Gershon is listed as 4'5" and Dvojre as only 4', which seems incredibly tiny to me; no one has ever told me they were that short.  They both had fair complexions and dark hair and eyes, and were born in Porosowa.

So that covers all the typed information on the form, which was created when they embarked.  Now we get to the added comments, most of them handwritten, which came at Ellis Island.  The first clue that there's more to look for is the word "ADMITTED" stamped over the letters "S I" to the left of their names on the first page (I admit, the letters are hard to read under the ADMITTED).  When you see this, or a handwritten "X" to the left, you should look for your immigrant relative on a page near the end of the complete ship manifest for detained aliens or those held for special inquiry.  The names are often spelled differently on the two pages, so they might not come up in the same search.  That happened to me with Gershon.  On the special inquiry page, his name is Gerzon Nowitzcy.  Dvojre's first name is still Dobra, however.  On the second page of the passenger list, both Gershon and Dvojre have "Senility which may aff." handwritten over the typed responses and "Med. cert" and a number.

And now for the special inquiry page.  An explanation of the special inquiry process can be found on the site, including a partial list of abbreviations found.  (Part of the explanation is the bad news that most of the special inquiry records no longer exist.)  Going by this information, both of my great-great-grandparents were considered likely public charges (LPC) due to being physically (PH) defective (DEF).  The processors at Ellis Island believed that they weren't capable of working to support themselves.  Their inspector was named Tufarolo.  They were finally admitted on September 9, and while they were held they ate eight breakfasts, ten dinners, and eight suppers.  The additional days of meals after they were admitted was probably due to it taking a day or two to contact Sam or another relative and let them know that Gershon and Dvojre were allowed to stay.

In earlier years, the page listing aliens held for special inquiry also included the name and address of the person who picked up the immigrants, which can often be very helpful.  By 1922, however, this was no longer the case, so I don't know if it was my cousin Sam or someone else who collected his parents from the detention center at Ellis Island.

I don't have documented birth information on either of these great-great-grandparents.  They were both born roughly about 1858.  Dvojre died February 9, 1936 in Brooklyn.  Gershon died December 12, 1948 in Brooklyn.  And as for him being physically defective or senile, after his arrival he worked as a Hebrew teacher for several years, and family members have told me he was a rambunctious dirty old man right up until the end.


  1. What a delightful idea! I need to vet the family info on my g-g-grandfather, James Hagan. An Irish immigrant in 1850, he found his way to San Francisco, where he first worked as a pipe fitter, and got into the new technology of founding gas companies. His first company served the Montgomery Block, now the site of the Transamerica Pyramid. A mysterious fire destroyed those gas works while he was in Boston to wed Mary Crayton. His revenge was to leave San Francisco and found gas companies up and down the California coast. He amassed a tidy fortune before dying in 1882.

    Family tales paint him as a colorful character, who could lift a barrel in his teeth and ate Worcestershire sauce on his pancakes. Like most of my ancestors, the family notes and public records are, shall we say, inconsistent. But entertaining.

    1. You might be able to find a fair amount of information on Mr. Hagan in San Francisco, particularly in newspapers. Whether the information found would match the family stories I don't know. :) Unfortunately, the mid-19th century is not always good for finding immigration documents, so you might not be able to figure out when exactly he arrived on these shores. But I'm sure you would enjoy the search!

  2. Interesting details about all you gleaned form the passenger lists. 4'5" does sound extremely small for a European man. Maybe someone made a mistake and he was 5'4"?

    1. Anything is possible, but then the height for Dobra must be wrong also, because I have a photo of the two of them together, and it looks like about 5" differencce between them. Maybe someone who really knows about standard photo backgrounds would be able to figure out how tall they are because of the painted window in the background?


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